I still remember the first time I shared a chapter of Eolyn with a writers group. I was as nervous as nervous can be. I didn’t know much about writing back then, so I had good reason to be worried. Still, my goals were modest at the time. All I really wanted to know was whether my little story might be interesting to someone besides me. The idea of publishing hadn’t quite crept into my brain, but it would soon.
As I began to engage more with writers groups and strengthen my craft, I harbored a hope that someday, when I had a better handle on what this writing thing was all about, showing my stories to others would become easier. In a sense, it has. I have more confidence in myself, and more strategies for letting less useful critiques, including outright negativity, wash over me.
But the vulnerability of that first moment, when I expose a new work-in-progress to the wider world, hasn’t changed one bit.
I relived this truth just last week, when I unveiled the first scenes of The Hunting Grounds to one of my writers groups. This is the fourth novel I’ve written, and yes, I’m still nervous on opening night! Even in a low stakes situation, with a group that is a proven safe space for new ideas and lousy first drafts.
Anxiety of this sort seems universal for all writers, no matter how skilled or experienced they are. The reasons are straightforward. It’s not about sentence structure, dialogue, or descriptive passages. It’s not about whether we’ve put in too many commas or cleaned up all the typos. It’s not about the soundness of our character arcs, or the overuse of cliches.
We get nervous because each one of our stories reflects a piece of our soul. It might be a small piece, it might be a large piece, but it’s soul, the deepest expression of who we are.
It’s not easy to carve out a piece of our soul and put it under the harsh light for everyone to see. This is one of the reasons why, even when I see and comment on serious issues in style and delivery, I always try to respect the author’s story, as well as the courage she had in putting it out there.
To my relief, the first scenes of The Hunting Grounds got a very positive response from my writers group. In fact, it was the most positive response I’ve seen on a first draft in a long time. That made me happy, and boosted my confidence for…Oh, I don’t know, about three days? Right up until it was time to post the next scene, at which point my confidence plummeted, and the anxiety started all over again.
It just goes to show that some things in a writer’s life never change.
They never change, that is, as long as you write from the heart.